We’re a few sleeps away from the biggest Test of the year, and the AOR pundits each name the Bok side they think can clinch back-to-back wins against the All Blacks for the first time since 2009.
Team Tank Lanning: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17, Tendai Mtawarira 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe
“We didn’t target any logs … we just wanted to grow as a team,” said Bok coach Rassie Erasmus after last Saturday’s win against the Wallabies. This in reference to not targeting the Rugby Champs trophy in his first attempt.
Fair enough. The Boks have indeed grown, but will finish as runners-up regardless of the result on Saturday. In the same interview, though, Erasmus also admitted to asking his side to get better each week, and now having beaten the All Blacks away from home, losing at home can only be seen as regression.
A smidgen unfair, in my book, but that is how the cookie crumbles.
And while the Men in Black will be smarting after the loss in Wellington, they bounced back in certain terms against a Bajada-bashed Pumas side last week in Buenos Aires, then got back in a plane to again travel more than half way round the world to be in Pretoria, and have already had the 2018 trophy engraved.
Even the mighty All Blacks could be forgiven for having their eyes elsewhere.
The bottom line is that Erasmus must be targeting a win, and not wasting a golden opportunity such as this to further experiment or build squad depth – as much as that is to be applauded.
As such, the Boks need another 23 that will implement the game plan seen in Wellington, that of not contesting defensive breakdowns, of kicking astutely, and of gargantuan defence! Double hits, speed off the line that remains structured and connected, and dominant hits that lead to turnovers.
Missing from the team that did duty in Wellington are Whiteley, De Allende and Am (all injured). In come Notshe, Esterhuizen and Nkosi, with Kriel switching from wing to outside centre.
Team Zelím Nel: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Siya Kolisi (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Eben Etzebeth, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Dan du Preez, 21 Cheslin Kolbe, 22 Damian Willemse, 23 Sergeal Petersen
Not since the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-final has the jackpot been bigger for South Africa than a win against the All Blacks on Saturday.
Beating New Zealand twice in a row would officially signal the end of the worst period in Bok history. Any and all available weapons should be laid on the table for careful consideration.
The win in Wellington was underwritten by a return to the defensive traditions of Bok rugby, but those tackles must be converted into turnovers, and then points, with more efficiency. And between now and the 2019 RWC, nagging positional weaknesses must also be solved.
With everything to gain and much less to lose, Erasmus should swing for the fences this week.
Francois Louw is more suited to fetching than roaming at No 8, so Siya Kolisi – a better athlete, though less inclined to poke his head in the hole – packs down at the back of the scrum.
Sbu Nkosi returns to bookend the line with Cheslin Kolbe dropping to the bench as dedicated scrumhalf cover where his underrated eye for kick-space and elite evasion skills in tight spaces can be maximised, while his lack of physicality is minimised by the close proximity of the pack.
Jesse Kriel and fit-again Damian de Allende are reunited in the midfield with Damian Willemse covering 10 and 12.
There are two new faces on the bench – Sharks No 8 Dan du Preez and WP finisher Sergeal Petersen.
Du Preez adds firepower while Petersen, in searing hot form, offers the Boks a home run threat that the All Blacks won’t know much about.
RG Snyman teams up with Eben Etzebeth in the most physical second row in the world, and Beast Mtawarira’s set-piece experience is harnessed in the first half before Steven Kitshoff rumbles on in the final 30 for demolition derby.
You’ve read what they think, which of the teams is closest to the one you would pick to beat the All Blacks?